BOSTON -- After another grueling cross-continent flight Saturday, the Boston Bruins know there is no time for rest. Not with a make-or-break Game 6 looming just 48 hours away.
Win that game at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) and the Bruins can force a winner-take-all game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday. Lose and their magical season ends two games short of its preferred destination and a summer of what-ifs and might-have-beens will begin while the Canucks are still celebrating their franchise's first title on the Garden ice.
"Right now, the smaller picture is the most important thing and that's to make sure that we create a Game 7 by playing extremely well here in our own building (in Game 6) and to look any further than that would be a big mistake on our part," Boston coach Claude Julien said.
But, can the Bruins pick themselves up off the may yet again after the Canucks landed their best knockout punch to date, winning a 1-0 decision in Game 5 on Friday night at Rogers Arena -- Vancouver's third one-goal victory at home?
Despite out-scoring the Canucks by a cumulative score of 14-6, the Bruins are facing elimination after Roberto Luongo's 31-save performance Friday. But, Boston says none of that matters. As Julien mentioned, Game 6 is all that matters and the Bruins insist they will be ready.
Defenseman Andrew Ference says that his teams preparation for this exact moment has stretched across more than 100 games this season and, as a result, they won't be intimidated by either enormity of the task or the finality of failure if it comes.
"You have preparation throughout the playoffs," Ference said Saturday after his team arrived at TD Garden for media availability. "If you don't make the playoffs, your season is done then. If you lose the Game 7s (in the playoffs), your season is done. You have plenty of opportunities to lose your chance at the Cup.
"Obviously, now the stakes are high and you are this far along. We're not stupid, we know the situation. But, at the same time, it's the same game, the same sport and the same situation, in reality, that you have been in before."
And, Boston does have some confidence upon which to draw.
In the two Stanley Cup games played in Boston last week, the Bruins were the better team, by far. Feeding off a rabid Bruins crowd and the brilliance of goalie Tim Thomas, the Bruins blitzed Vancouver for a dozen goals in the two games, winning 8-1 in Game 3 and 4-0 in Game 4. Luongo gave up all 12 goals and was chased from Game 4.
The Boston players, however, were hard-pressed to explain the dominance they displayed at the garden compared to the three one-goal losses in Vancouver.
"It's usually a little easier to play at home, just because you get last (line) change, you get your fans giving you a lot of energy and emotion," Boston forward Brad Marchand said. "But they're not going to come in here and just let us have the game because were at home. It's going to be a battle right down to the end. Obviously they're in a clinching position, so we just have to make sure that were ready."
Fortunately, the Bruins have had a little experience with elimination games, winning a Game 7 in overtime against Montreal in the first round and a 1-0 decision against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The injured Nathan Horton scored the winning goal in each of those games, but the Bruins still believe they have the tools to get the job done in Game 6.
"Let's put it this way, we didn't say 'Horts, you go score the goal,' so that's one thing about it," Julien said. "Second, I believe in this group of guys and we've been through a lot. We lost Nathan at the beginning of the third game (of the Final) and we did extremely well getting ourselves back into the series. He's a big part of our hockey club and we miss him. We can't overlook that fact.
"But they have injuries as well and we don't look for excuses. We feel right now we have a team that can compete right till the end and the only thing we have left to do is go out there and show it."
If they do show it, the Bruins will have earned the right to board another cross-continent flight Tuesday to prepare for Wednesdays winner-take-all showdown. If not, Vancouver will enjoy the ultimate of victories, celebrating a championship on the road in front of Boston's brokenhearted fans.
The latter scenario is an image that many of the Bruins can't bear to even entertain.
"Well, I think we want to be the ones to lift the Cup," Marchand said. "We want to fight as hard as we possibly can to make sure that happens. We know that if that's going to happen, we have to win next game. So we just have to make sure that we do our best to make that possible."